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On Deadline: Does 'Planned Community' really mean 'Unplanned Community' or 'Negotiated Zoning'?

Original post made on Aug 18, 2013

When I was first introduced to a "Planned Community" zone in the mid-1960s it was with an enthusiastic assessment by a professional planner in Mountain View, later echoed by planning staff members in Palo Alto.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, August 16, 2013, 12:00 AM

Comments (11)

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Posted by Sam
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 18, 2013 at 6:08 am

If much needed PC reform gets turned into a blunt instrument as residents try to beat back the latest assault of commercial develop, they may take affordable housing down with it to the detriment of all of us.

Commercial PCs are the problem (don't we have enough offices from which we get no tax revenue?). Much needed affordable housing for residents is not the problem. Reformers must distinguish between the two and see they have a responsibility to foster an economically diverse community while looking out for their own interests.

Maybell is a good example - a scapegoat that detracts from positive PC reform. Maybell is a well designed project that depends, as all affordable projects do, on a complex web of funding and PC zoning. All affordable housing projects in this town have relied on PC zoning. So be very careful how you go about reform - you can do good or hurt a whole lot of low income old people, children and our community.

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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 18, 2013 at 7:10 am

My definition of "we'll designed" includes,fitting into the adjacent surroundings.

A 50 foot building dropped into an area with a 30 foot limit is hardly that.

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Posted by Neilson Buchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 18, 2013 at 7:54 am

There will be no resolution of public benefits/planned community abuse until the Mayor Scharff and City Manager Keene decide that Palo Alto sits in a deep no-win development hole. When the history books are written for 2013, citizens will be puzzled how their common sense and sense of community failed to serve public interests. Citizens are alarmed and motivated by lack of due diligence and stewardship for residential neighborhoods jammed with 1500+ all-day commuter parked vehicles, gridlocked intersections, biking safety, and serial office buildings approved with totally inadequate on-site parking (sometimes no on-site parking at all).

The Mayor and City Manager know the objective facts, yet they abuse their duties by withholding the power of their offices. In this crisis Palo Alto does not need reluctant, timid leaders.

For the moment, I think that the professional city management (James Keene and Acting Planning Director Aknin)are not empowered by the City Council and are overwhelmed with the burdens from the developers who are rushing projects through the Planning Process. The serial findings of Negative Impact are simply irrational and unjustified.

Stewardship for Palo Alto starts and ends with Mayor Scharff. The first step would be full public disclosure of timelines and who is responsible for 3 key undermanaged projects.

1. Follow up to the Public Benefit Dear Colleage Memo March 27
2. Downtown Cap Study
3. Full study of traffic and intersections throughout Palo Alto

Each of these languishing projects must be fast tracked and completed not later than mid-2014..ample time for the November 2014 elections

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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 18, 2013 at 10:12 am

>they may take affordable housing down with it to the detriment of all of us.

Wrong! So-called 'affordable housing' (AH) is NOT a benefit to Palo Alto. I have yet to see one convincing argument that it is. AH is used as a 'public benefit', as absurd as that is, to allow for high density residential development. AH has had sacred cow treatment for far too long. It is time to remove AH as a public benefit...because it is just the opposite.

In the meantime, all new AH projects should go into the elite neighborhoods in North Palo Alto. Then watch how fast AH gets delisted as a public benefit!

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Posted by Jade
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 18, 2013 at 11:39 am

PC zoning is now leapfrogging into neighborhoods. PC zoning is being used to drop a 60 unit, 50 feet complex on 1 acre on Maybell in a residential neighborhood. Current residential zoning on that 1 acre is 15 units with a 30 feet height limit (RM-15).

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Posted by Peter
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 18, 2013 at 12:47 pm

If you heard a developer approach a public official and ask, "what will it take to break the zoning laws so I can build what I want." Would you define this as a proposed public benefit , or would you simply label it as an attemted bribe. Remember the public has no say in defining the merits of a public benefit. Perhaps it should be relabeled as "developer benefit."

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Aug 18, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

As someone who was a PA Planning Commissioner when we wrote the 1970's Comprehensive Plan I am proud of that document and the innovations which it included such as three dimensional zoning that permitted housing above commercial uses on the same site. The plan was truly comprehensive and it was not enhanced by the later wide spread use of PC zoning.
PC zoning inherently lacks the integration and balance into the adjacent properties that was detailed in the Comprehensive Plan.

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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 18, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Peter Carpenter,

Do you happened to know who/how the 'affordable housing' element was wedged into our city?

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Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 18, 2013 at 10:25 pm

Jay Thorwaldson writes:
"Why continue the Comprehensive Plan revision now underway at all?"

Good question.

The Comp Plan in Palo Alto is neither followed nor respected.

Also, as a charter city, Palo Alto is not required to have its zoning code be consistent with the Comp Plan. City Attorney Molly Stump said as much when she advised the council on August 8 to accept one of the two Maybell petitions and therefore rescind the Maybell Comp Plan land use change as it was "not determinative" for the PC.

Nor, I believe is the Comp Plan required to be regularly amended except for the housing element, which needs to be updated every 5 years (Someone chime in if I am mistaken).

But a Comp Plan (called a General Plan in most other cities) is required, and we had an excellent community process to produce the current version over 10 years ago. And while you can cherry pick something from it to align with almost any project, there are many overriding themes within it that are clear, should take precedence, and be followed.

The city needs to respect the current Comp Plan, and the best way to ensure that is via a city charter amendment to require consistency between the Comp Plan and zoning as is required in all California General Law cities, which comprise over 80% of California cities, as well as Charter Cities such San Marcus (San Diego County) that have amended their charter for that purpose. Web Link

Then, of course, we have to be diligent as citizens and make sure that Comp Plans through its amendments remains internally consist and reflects the desires of the community.

You can still allow PCs under that scenario, but each proposed PC would still need to be consistent with the Comp Plan. To make matters more explicit, just add that wording to the charter amendment.

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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 19, 2013 at 9:49 am

Not to worry, Mr Balin. There is never a discrepancy between the Comp Plan and a PC development. It is routinely amended to make it conform to each PC.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Nixon School

on Jun 5, 2017 at 7:52 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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